In March 2020, masks and hand sanitizers were listed as essentials commodities after a sudden spike in the demand and prices of these products owing to the spread of coronavirus. However, on 1st July 2020 the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, food, and public distribution release an official memorandum in which N-95 masks and hand sanitizers were removed from the list of essential commodities.
Upon being questioned, the Ministry said that the decision was taken after feedback was collected from all stakeholders. He added that no complaints were received from states regarding the availability of N-95 masks or hand sanitizers. On Thursday, August 6, 2020, the Karnataka HC directed the Central Government to clear its stand on whether face mask including N-95 masks and hand sanitizers should be included in the list of essential commodities, for effective price control and availability of items, as the numbers of COVID-19 cases are multiplying across the Country.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Aravind Kumar said that a competent officer of the Central government must file an affidavit with regard to the exclusion of N-95 masks and hand sanitizers from the essential commodities list from July 1, as common people and not just doctors use them to protect themselves. The bench also directed the State Government to file an affidavit on three issues: -
- The State must inform the court about the availability of N-95 masks and sanitizers, and whether there were any complaints regarding non-availability.
- The State must place on record the difference in prices of the products depending on the manufacturer.
- The amount paid by the Government in procuring N-95 masks for frontline workers.
The court will next hear the case on 18th August, 2020.